Since voicing my intention to transition, I’ve been revisiting my favorite love-as-a-woman songs and reorienting myself within them.
This is Formation Jukebox, a column by Lio Min on being in transition and the music that helps them make sense of it all.
I guess I couldn’t help trying to be the best American girl
In the underbelly of I guess I couldn’t help trying to be the best American girl is “she”/”her”/the version of me who grasped at American girlhood until her hands were numb.
I think of those girl friends now, almost all of whom live on in my life as strangers, and feel a deep shame. We were so buoyant with affection and tenderness; we were so gifted at twisting small blades in each other’s backs under the petty spell of teenage courtship. I have no trouble meeting up with former guy friends, but I have a much tougher time talking to the girls, who are now women.
It’s not that we would have nothing to talk about but that we would have everything to talk about, like how we had to clamp our teeth on the bit of white suburban girlhood whether we identified with it or not. Rehashing nostalgia with no bittersweetness is just a signifier that you’ve changed in a way that can’t be reversed, even if you wanted to. And for those of us who don’t want to go back to how we were, the rush of remembering this other time and place and body is almost as painful as the moment my dysphoria and its accompanying clarity, growing like fungi—stealthily fertile in decay—under my skin, erupted into the light.
When Mitski sings Don’t wait for me / I can’t come, the reverb on her vocals making her sound like she’s fading into the growing swell of the first chorus, the fantasy of the verses before falls away. My teenage self would’ve written the chorus in permanent marker on her skin, somewhere no one else would see: Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me / But I do, I think I do / And you’re an all-American boy / I guess I couldn’t help trying to be your best American girl. That was and wasn’t my life. So I still hold those lyrics close to my heart, and at a show I would sing along to every word. The melody and the message doesn’t have to be the same thing.
Sometimes you shouldn’t try to overcome a difference. Sometimes who you were is just who you are. But if given the choice to change or not, I will always choose change.
The bridge in “Your Best American Girl”: You’re the one / You’re all I ever wanted / I think I’ll regret this. It’s a coy, self-fulfilling prophecy that helps align the rest of the song, as the protagonist swoons in and out of one kind of love (romance with the American boy) while cushioning herself with another (appreciation for the mother who raised her right after all).
Since voicing my intention to transition out loud—to my loved ones; to my therapist; to every doctor acting as a gatekeeper, however sympathetic—I’ve been revisiting all of my favorite love-as-a-woman songs and reorienting myself within them. “Your Best American Girl” used to be a portrait, and now I’ve stepped out of the frame by choice and with conviction.
But the outline where a girl used to be is still there, and I haven’t quite figured out what should take her place. With every syringe I plunge into my belly on Tuesday mornings, every step I take away from the homestead of cis womanhood, I think, “I hope I don’t regret this,” laughing to and at myself so I don’t dwell on what I’m walking away from. I’m breaking up with my best American girl, and she’s felt it coming for a while, I think, and is happy for me. I want to tell her that it’ll be okay and hold her hand, but as I reach for it, mine passes through.